Whose heritage is it anyway

No institution can be expected to function efficiently in the absence of effective bookkeeping. In case of the Quila Mubarak complex efficient book keeping is a dream because the original register in the Durbar Hall museum has been missing since decades. The Punjab Cultural Affairs, Archaeology and Museums Department is trying to make amends now after the recent robbery to make a digital catalogue of artifacts in the fort palace premises. Never mind the fact that it never tried to go in for even a video documentation till now.

What bigwigs in the department do not realise is that this bookkeeping could have easily been done the old-fashioned way decades back. It has two Registering Officers, with accompanying staff, who could have easily done this work. These officers, however, sit in Chandigarh with their staff and usually keep themselves busy by registering private collections or statues and other objects in religious places in the state.

The Durbar Hall Museum has had its share of bizarre experiences. In the 1990s, part of the roof was breached and a rope made out of old bags in which revenue records had been stored was found on the spot. No one knows if anything went missing. Insiders say during the repair of the roof and dismantling and recharging of scores of chandeliers, many strings of beads went missing. But here again there is nothing to substantiate allegations, as there is no proper photographic record of the chandeliers. Allegations of misappropriation of iron bars, bricks, snowcem and bitumen felt (used to stop leaking of roofs) has been officially exchanged between officers of the department regularly in the last decade but nothing has come of it.

Security concerns over the fate of the miniatures in the complex are also nothing new. According to documents with TNS, the Department of Cultural Affairs wrote a number of letters to the Patiala-based authorities in the Quila on this issue. A letter on June 20, 2000, by the Department states that the miniatures should be taken out and displayed in the Sheesh Mahal Museum. A committee of Patiala-based officials was formed for this purpose. Following its meeting on September 5, 2000, the committee recommended that the miniatures should be allowed to remain in the Quila adding requisite steps could be taken to ensure cleanliness and security in the complex. However nothing came out of this as well.

Presently, before the theft of the miniatures from the complex, which was discovered on October 2 this year, there were only six security personnel from PESCO and one Inspector on duty in the entire complex. As only two security personnel can do duty in one shift, both were posted at the entrance of the museum, leaving no security for the rest of the sprawling complex. A supervisor in the Quila challenged even this security system three months back and reported to the Department that the two personnel on night shift were, in fact, not doing their duty. Following the theft of the miniatures, now two security rings in both the outer and inner complex have been planned.

If everything is mismanaged, what about Conservation, which is the major responsibility of the Department of Cultural Affairs. Sadly, no conservation is taking place in the complex since more than six years. Even as the painted chambers in the complex are going to seed, no effort is being made to restore them. Only one of the chambers has seen an attempt at restoration. This also was done by the NRLC, Lucknow laboratory which restored half of one chamber between 1997 -1999. This was done despite the fact that the department’s chemical conservation laboratory, a shadow of its old self, is housed in the Quila complex. There are only four personnel posted in the laboratory at present. The post of archaeology chemist to head it has not been filled since 2000. There is no artist employed in the lab, ensuring no retouching work can be done. Similarly, even though posts of art executive and modeller exist, they have neither been filled up nor attached to the laboratory.

"How can you expect us to do anything in such a situation’" says an employee. According to him, at present they were basically doing cleaning work. But even this work is not always given to them. For instance, the Department got around 800 coins cleaned from outside at an exorbitant cost even though the laboratory is cleaning coins recovered from excavations. "This is done because a work which costs Rs five in-house, is done for Rs 50 outside", the employee added. This is not all. Even the walls and small grounds in the Quila complex are not maintained well. Sources said there were seven cleaners earlier and six sikligars to polish metal objects. Some of them have retired while the others have now been posted as museum attendants and are presently occupied in dusting exhibition shelfs. This means continous growth of vegetation on the Quila walls and sprouting of wild grass everywhere, ensuring a bleak future for the monument, which is the best remaining example of a fort palace in Punjab. 

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